Planetary Compassion Fatigue

Morning emailsEleven political and environmental emails today.  Ten deleted.  I’ve got planetary compassion fatigue.  How to do the right thing when I’m buffeted between hope and cynicism ?  So many people working on urgent causes trying to elevate awareness, concern and of course, money.  But it’s too much.  I snap my laptop closed with a decisive click.  Time for the river.

My Honda knows the way to my favorite river trail.  It glides down the north fork river canyon, following the intricate twists and switchbacks of the mountain road until the road flattens out and parallels the shallow, trout-filled waters of the north fork. Shallower than normal for this time of year, I notice.  Every year’s different, but I can’t help feeling a smidge of concern.

 Middle Fork Yuba RiverSandals off, hiking boots on, I find the dusty trailhead.  The first part is rocky, but I know it will smooth out around the bend and I’ll strike up a cadence.  I pull off a handful of manzanita berries and pop them in my mouth.  Crunchy, slightly sweet. My husband and I made manzanita berry sugar last week, experimenting with what’s edible in the wild. I hope I never have to live on them, I think as I spit out the granular seeds.

My steps fall into a rhythm against the soft dirt, sending waves of vibration up my spine.  Thump, thump, thump – base notes to the river’s wavering alto.  Hermit Thrushes fill in the soprano voice.  My mind lifts off and floats along.

I’m troubled with information overload, I think.  There’s so much to be concerned about, but what can one person do?  Sign the next email petition, press the “Donate Now” button, listen to the phone pleas, call my Senator?  What actually makes a difference? I kick a rock from the trail, watch it tumble down the bank and splash into the river.

Thanks to technology, I know what’s going on almost as soon as it happens. Great-Grandmother Eliza only had telegraph, newspapers and back fence gossip, I muse.

“Hah! But it was sometimes a week after it happened.” I’m aware of Eliza’s voice and let it come through. “You want to do the right thing,” she continues. “You’ve got the whole world literally at your fingertips. I had to use my feet – hitch the buggy, go house to house.  Except Sundays – one more reason to go to church.  Oh, and letters.”

“Snail mail,” I snort.

“It’s all we had until telephones became common.

“But you made some important changes.  You got the saloons closed; got land set aside for state parks.”

“Did it through face to face persistence. You’ve got to look them straight in the eye, see into their soul.”

“Video conferencing,” I think.

“Someday you won’t even have that.”  My future Great-Granddaughter enters the conversation. “Just voices inputting information in your head. And even that will die.”

I pull off the trail to make way for a hiker from the other direction.  He smiles, nods, and passes through.

I pick up the thread of conversation. “I wonder sometimes if information overload is intentional. I get so distracted and overwhelmed: public drinking water privatized, elephants wiped out for tusks, tax breaks for corporate “farms”, oil spills, bee-killing pesticides, sex trafficking, GMO’s, fracking….  After a while, it all becomes background noise and I stop caring enough to do anything.”

“Then you should stop listening,” Amisha cuts in.

“Don’t let her get away with that,” Eliza says. “I did what I could with what I had … and what I cared about.  Think of the power you have with your Internet and what you all call “social media”, she says.

Is it power or illusion? I wonder.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.